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TOPAZ(director: Alfred Hitchcock; screenwriters: Samuel Taylor/based on the novel by Leon Uris; cinematographer: Jack Hildyard; editor: William H. Ziegler; music: Maurice Jarre; cast: Frederick Stafford (Andre Devereaux), Dany Robin (Nicole Devereaux), Claude Jade (Michele Picard), Karin Dor (Juanita de Cordoba), John Vernon (Rico Parra), Michel Piccoli (Jacques Granville), Philippe Noiret (Henri Jarre), Roscoe Lee Browne (Philippe Dubois), John Forsythe (Michael Nordstrom), Per-Axel Arosenius (Boris Kusenov), Michel Subor (François Picard), Don Randolph (Luis Uribe), Lewis Charles (Pablo Mendoza), Anna Navarro (Carlotta Mendoza); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alfred Hitchcock; Universal Pictures; 1969)
“The muddled Samuel Taylor screenplay smelled so bad I wouldn’t wrap fish in it.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This bestselling Leon Uris based novel, a contemporary cold war spy thriller, bombed as a film. The muddled Samuel Taylor screenplay smelled so bad I wouldn’t wrap fish in it. It resulted in the third flop in a row (Marnie-1964 and Torn Curtain-1966) for the esteemed Alfred Hitchcock (“Vertigo”/Spellbound”/ “Psycho”). The Master seems content to be going through the motions as he flatly directs in a TV style and without feelings this behind the headlines exposé of the Cuban missile crisis, involving international espionage ala James Bond. The murky plot, that makes little sense, has French and American agents trying to uncover Russian operatives involved with double agent French officials involved with the Russians over Castro’s Cuba. Matters are further not helped by the weak performances from the entire cast. If you can believe, John Vernon is playing someone who is supposed to resemble Fidel.

Warning: spoiler in next paragraph.

It opens in 1962 as a top spy with the KGB, Boris Kusenova (Per-Axel Arosenius), defects from the Soviet embassy in Copenhagen with the help of CIA agent Michael Nordstrom (John Forsythe) and is grilled for information as he resides in a Washington D.C. safe house with his family. Boris tells about photos of missiles kept by visiting Cuban officials. The CIA assigns, as a favor, friendly French spy Andre Devereaux (Frederick Stafford) to put his life on the line and help the Americans get the dope on who is supplying Cuba with the missiles. Andre recruits one of his freelance operatives, the black French man posing as a florist (Roscoe Lee Browne), to go to Harlem’s Hotel Theresa and bribe a corruptible Cuban diplomat (Don Randolph) so he can take photographs of the documents about the Cuban missiles. The photos are obtained but the diplomat is executed. Andre next goes to Cuba and shacks up with his beautiful Cuban mistress Juanita (Karin Dor), whose dead hubby was a hero of the revolution but she’s secretly a counterrevolutionist. Juanita recruits Carlotta and Pablo Mendoza to take photos of the missiles for the French agent to give to the American agent. They succeed in getting the photos out of the country, but get caught. As a result they are tortured to death and forced to give up Juanita, who is killed by her lover Rico Parra (John Vernon)—a higher-up closely associated with Castro. Andre is expelled from Cuba and recalled to France, but not before he learns of the leaks among the top French officials and about Topaz, the code name for a Russian spy ring, and that one of the operatives is the high-ranking French official (Philippe Noiret) with NATO, who is helping the Russians supply missiles to Cuba. In Paris Andre unmasks that his best friend Jacques Granville (Michel Piccoli) is the top double agent with the code name Columbine, who is not only a traitor but his wife’s (Dany Robin) lover.

It’s hard to believe that Hitchcock filmed such a humdrum conventional espionage story. It reduces the Cuban missile crisis to a yawner. The director shot three different endings, but I think the film would have only worked if there was no beginning.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”